I eased myself down the steep bank gently, trying my best to avoid stumbling like a buffoon and tripping on the exposed roots that created an almost-staircase out of the slope. The initial stretch of woodland was largely deciduous, without much canopy overhead. A nutrient-rich layer of broad-leaf litter and dead wood crunched underfoot. The absence of canopy during the autumn and winter has several effects on this area of woodland, firstly it provides the soil with lots of organic matter as the leaves decay – which can provide nutrients to ground flora such as flowers and other shrubs. Another effect is the large amount of light that gets in during these months – which is also vital to the ground flora. A certain amount of precipitation (rain, mist, hail, snow etc.) is intercepted by the canopy during the summer, however the absence of cover throughout the winter months, allows a lot of water to enter the soil directly – which I noticed had made the ground rather boggy as I continued on my stroll.
A few Scots pines were looming tall over head – a species of coniferous tree with distinctive salmon pink bark. They were sparse at first, being surrounded mainly by the broad-leafed trees, however as I slowly traversed along the path, the woodland gradually became more coniferous, under which the pine needles had created a thick mat over the forest floor. Pine needles do not decay very fast, and create a layer that does not incorporate into the soil – because of this, the soil is less nutrient rich than in the deciduous area I had passed through previously (due to an absence of organic matter being incorporated). In coniferous woodland, the canopy stays overhead all year-round, so unlike the broad-leaf area, interception occurs constantly and there is always shade cover. The ground flora was distinctly less varied, I noted; mostly ferns (which can cope with the low light levels).
I spotted a number of Silver Birch trees dotted among the pines, there didn’t appear to be many other species of tree around. I wasn’t sure why this might be, but it seemed as though the Birches were quite capable of competing (height-wise) with the pines, and perhaps other species simply don’t have quite the same reach (or have never had the chance to). Many trees had violently collapsed in the wind, and were now crumbling and being slowly devoured by detritivores, mites and fungi. Two deer swiftly bounced through the ferns just ahead of where I was walking, and a pheasant was calling in the distance. I turned back and started to walk home in a rather blissful state.
There is nothing quite like surrounding oneself in nature. The experience is heightened immensely even after having acquired a rather rudimentary understanding of ecosystems, and forestry etc. I would advise anyone to spend as much time around nature as they possibly can, and to learn as much about it as they can. Its good medicine for your consciousness.